Sunday, February 9th, 2003
Long Black Veil
The video for Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt”, by Nine Inch Nails, is getting a lot of attention. There’s a lot being read into the elegiac tone of both his cover and the visuals, which comprise a very old and weary looking Cash performing the song, interspersed with footage of himself throughout his career as a much younger and vibrant man. The obvious intent is to contrast the man he was with the man he is now, and combined with the lyrical content of the song, the overwhelming sense is of regret, sadness and ultimately resignment.
With all due respect to Cash and his career, I’ve been wary of his recent output. The cynic in me regards his inclusions of unconventional covers (Beck, Depeche Mode) as something of a bid at novelty sales. I can just see the frat boys now, “I love Johnny Cash. His cover of “Rusty Cage” is the best”. And I shudder. But this interpretation silences that naysayer. Cash has taken a song I’ve always dismissed as shallow and sophomoric (Never ever liked Nine Inch Nails, still don’t) and imbued it with an amazing weight and emotional resonance. His performance in the video only underscores how remarkable it is – what could have come off as manipulative and crass is instead very real.
But I hope it’s not. I hope it is just a performance. I hope that at this point in his life, Cash is looking back on his works and his legacy and feeling pride, satisfaction, not the bitterness and sadness conveyed in the video.
Thanks to The Rub for bringing this vid to my attention and making me think. Even on a Sunday.